It’s tough to imagine that a few million years ago, Antarctica was a green continent of lush cool rain forests, wooded hills, and bountiful plains. But the narrow straits separating Antarctica from the tip of South America and Australia finally widened enough that a system of circular ocean currents locked arms and thermally isolated it. The flora and fauna that flourished in ancient, temperate Antarctica will never be well understood. Rivers of ice have patiently sanded off the softer, fossil bearing surface rock and dumped it into the southern ocean, easier than a belt sander ripping through old wood finish.
Over time, a new global climate arose marked by advancing and retreating glaciers bordering tropical belts of rain forest and savanna. This is the world hominids evolved on, the home that 7 billion people think of as somewhere between normal and eternal today. For us, a frozen southern continent is a good thing. It’s a massive heat sink and solar reflector that has acted like a damper on climate since its formation. That’s the obligatory kernel of truth expertly woven into a finely hewn distortion still popular among apologists for the greenhouse gas industry: Until now:
“The thing you hear all the time is that Antarctica is cooling and that’s not the case,” said Eric Steig of the University of Washington in Seattle, lead author of the study in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature. The average temperature rise was “very comparable to the global average,” he told a telephone news briefing. Skeptics about man-made global warming have in the past used reports of a cooling of Antarctica as evidence to back their view that warming is a myth.
The borg are already half-heartedly working to discredit the study — with an occasional swipe at algore. Then there’s the usual yammering that ‘scientists themselves admit’ the earth has undergone disastrous upheavals before. Many times in fact. That the planet is none the worse for the wear. That it’s normal, even natural, and therefore, somehow … “OK.”
65 million years ago, a hefty rock struck the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn’t nearly as large as the one in the Large Impact Simulation that peeled the earth like an orange. But it was large enough that its top was still in the stratosphere when its bottom was already vaporizing a swath of shallow ocean and sandy seabed bigger than Sicily. So much ejecta was splashed into low earth orbit that within minutes, as each mountain or molehill burned back in, the skies over much of the world glowed as bright as the sun, entire rain forests and whole herds of dinos lit up like torches where they stood. Land and sea were bombarded by meteors and bleached bare by acid rain. The earth survived. But all over the planet most every link in the food chain snapped: in about one day an exquisite, interlocking set of global ecologies forged over a hundred and seventy million years, from microbes to monsters, utterly disintegrated. And as bad as the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction sounds, there was at least one other event far worse.
Millions of years before the first dinosaurs evolved, there was a world of astonshing diversity. But that world was doomed. The most likely culprit is a runaway greenhouse effect initially triggered by what geologists call a flood basalt volcano, but this was unlike any volcano you’ve ever imagined. It was an open wound in the earth’s skin the size of Kansas, spewing geysers of blood red magma and mineral gore, on a scale so vast it would have been easily visible from the surface of the moon. The Permian-Triassic Extinction. Nickname, the Great Dying.
The P-T and K-T boundaries mark just two deadly highlights in our planet’s ruthless natural history. The kind of hell on earth that climate change denialists use to justify their rejection or concern over anthropogenic warming today.
There were many, many others. And while we cannot say with metaphysical certainty exactly why they each happened, they all have one thing in common: We know how deadly those events were because all over the world, by virtue of slow erosion and uplift, the pitiful, fossilized remains of their innumerable victims rise up from stony graves and bob to the surface like corpses in a lake. At the risk of mixing metaphors, imagine that same, conservative it’s-happened-before-so-it’s-OK-now ‘logic’ used for a much smaller disaster, like Hurricane Katrina: what might we think of someone who pointed to bloated bodies floating in stagnant flood waters to glibly argue we needn’t bother keeping on eye on the weather, or worry about storm warnings, and anyone who says otherwise is an alarmist liberal moonbat?
Given the evidence, the idea that we shouldn’t worry about climate change because it’s happened before has to rank among the most perverse, deranged arguments ever made. It’s like reassuring the lobster, by pointing out the pot and water will always survive his imminent boiling. Cu-cu-Cachoo.
A much better lesson taken from recent history suggests that not only can we get a handle on this, government investment in alternative energy could lead to millions of jobs for the middle class, and big green piles of cold hard cash for anyone with a knack for marrying scientific innovation and blue-collar manufacturing to good old fashioned American capitalism. That sure beats the hell out of business as usual where, in a few short decades, we have managed to raise global temperature one-fifth of the way to a hypothetical Permian-Triassic trigger. Whatever the source of ignorance and contempt for empirical evidence among those whose collective intelligence barely surpasses the caramelized algal blooms that fueled this threat, if they’re given free reign, the next set of mineralized corpses bobbing up out of the earth in silent witness to global disaster could include our own.